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City of Lawrenceburg v. Franklin County

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 29, 2016

City of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Mayor of Lawrenceburg in his official capacity, Common Council of the City of Lawrenceburg in their official capacities Appellants-Defendants,
v.
Franklin County, Indiana, & the Franklin County Board of Commissioners in their official capacities, Appellees-Plaintiffs

         Interlocutory Appeal from the Franklin Circuit Court The Honorable J. Steven Cox Trial Court Cause No. 24C01-1511-PL-740

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS Leanna Weissmann Lawrenceburg, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES Grant M. Reeves Barada Law Offices LLC Rushville, Indiana

          Bradford, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [1] In 2015, Appellees-Plaintiffs Franklin County and the Franklin County Board of Commissioners (collectively, "Franklin") filed a complaint in Franklin Circuit Court alleging breach of contract by Appellants-Defendants the City of Lawrenceburg, the mayor of Lawrenceburg, and the common council of Lawrenceburg (collectively, "the City"). The City filed a motion, pursuant to Trial Rule 76(A), requesting a change of venue from Franklin County to Dearborn County. The trial court denied the City's motion. On appeal, the City contends that the trial court erred in denying its motion for change of venue. We reverse the trial court's ruling and remand with instructions.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [2] On January 17, 2006, the City and Franklin entered into a contract under which the City agreed to share riverboat casino earnings with Franklin. On November 19, 2013, the City notified Franklin of its intent to terminate the agreement. On November 18, 2015, Franklin filed a complaint in Franklin Circuit Court alleging breach of contract by the City. On January 8, 2016, the City moved to change venue, arguing that pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 76(A), the Franklin Circuit Court is an inappropriate venue because Franklin County is a party to the lawsuit. On February 12, 2016, the trial court denied the City's motion to change venue.

         Discussion and Decision

         [3] On appeal, the City argues that the trial court erred in denying its motion to change venue. Indiana Trial Rule 76(A) provides as follows:

In civil actions where the venue may be changed from the county, such change of venue from the county may be had only upon the filing of a verified motion specifically stating the grounds therefor by the party requesting the change. The motion shall be granted only upon a showing that the county where suit is pending is a party or that the party seeking the change will be unlikely to receive a fair trial on account of local prejudice or bias regarding a party or the claim or defense presented by a party. Denial of a motion for change of venue from the county shall be reviewable only for an abuse of discretion….

(emphasis added).

         [4] The City contends that its motion should have been granted because Franklin County is a party and the suit is pending in Franklin Circuit Court. For its part, Franklin argues that, according to Trial Rule 75(A)(5), Franklin Circuit Court is a preferred venue and so the case should not be transferred.

Preferred venue lies in: … the county where…the principal office of a governmental organization is located, or the office of a governmental organization to which the claim relates or out of which the claim arose is located, if one or more governmental organizations are included as defendants in the complaint;

T.R. 75(A)(5). Regardless of whether Franklin County is a preferred venue, its status as such is trumped by Trial Rule 76(A), which states explicitly that a motion requesting a change of venue "shall be granted only upon a showing that the county where suit is pending is a party." That is clearly the case here Accordingly, the trial court was required to grant the City's motion and erred in failing to do so. See Scott v. Consol. City of Indianapolis, 833 N.E.2d 1094, 1101 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005) ("According to the plain reading of Trial Rule 76, a change of venue occurs when the county is a party to the action."); see also Bd. of Comm'rs of LaPorte Cnty. v. Great Lakes Transfer, LLC, 888 N.E.2d 784, 790 (Ind.Ct.App. 2008) (holding that T.R. 76(A) required that ...


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